The good shepherd does not die for the sheep.
Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Paul and his disciples have caused Christians to misunderstand this simple statement.
A shepherd does not die for the sheep: he lives for the sheep. A dead shepherd is of no use to the sheep. But a living shepherd leads them to green pastures.
Jesus, the good shepherd, does not die for the sheep. Nevertheless, he gives his life for them. Jesus is talking here about the life of the shepherd and not about his death. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep in the sense that his entire life is devoted to taking care of them. Without a doubt, it is far more difficult to live for the sheep than to die for them.
Jesus is still giving his Life
Jesus’ crucifixion was a one-time event, but his priesthood as our shepherd is everlasting. Jesus remains our shepherd today and he is still giving his life for us. The enemy decided to kill the shepherd so that the sheep would scatter (Zechariah 13:7); but God countered and neutralised this by raising him from the dead, never to die again.
Jesus said to his disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends (John 15:12-13). When he said this, he had not yet died on the cross, so the love he was referring to did not include his crucifixion.
As our good shepherd, Jesus should be emulated by his flock. How are we to follow him in the giving of his life? Was he asking for his disciples to be killed? No. He was asking them to love others by living a life of service. He says: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). To give one’s life is to serve others and not merely to be crucified for them.
The cross as the incarnation
The cross of Jesus was fundamentally his incarnation and not just his crucifixion. His cross was in laying down his life in heaven in order to come to earth as a man to show us the way of salvation. Jesus says: “My Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:17-18).
The “life” Jesus laid down was surely the spiritual, and not the physical, life. Jesus teaches that the physical life is inconsequential: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28). The physical life was taken from him against his will (Luke 22:42). But no one took his divine (eternal) life from him. He voluntarily relinquished it in heaven in order to take up a mortal life on earth. After his earthly death and resurrection, he took up again his heavenly life.
Paul’s unrighteous theology
Lagos drivers are terrible. We drive with scant regard for traffic laws. We drive on the pavements and on the wrong sides of the road. We beat red lights, violate one-way traffic signs, and park in no-parking zones.
But one day, a man called Jesus came to Lagos. He was a perfect driver and he obeyed scrupulously all the traffic laws. In recognition for his fastidiousness, the Lagos State Government repealed all traffic laws on the grounds that he had fulfilled them. Any man who believes in Jesus is then deemed to have also obeyed all the laws. Nevertheless, the government jailed Jesus for violating traffic laws, even though in actual fact he had obeyed them all.
Why should Christians believe such nonsense?
With the repeal of all traffic laws at the instance of Jesus’ obedience, would the traffic situation in Lagos improve? No. Would Lagosians start driving properly as a result of Jesus’ perfect obedience? Not likely.
What if we were to give Lagos drivers a new slogan saying: “All things are lawful on the roads?” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Would that improve the situation? Certainly not! What if we were to say: “there is therefore now no condemnation for Lagos drivers?” (Romans 8:1) Would they therefore drive with circumspection? Definitely not! What if we were to reassure them that the Chief Judge of Lagos now “justifies ungodly drivers?” (Romans 4:5). Would that make them godly drivers? Of course not!
And yet, that is the foolishness and deception of Pauline Christianity.